The National Football League preseason is the period each year during which NFL teams play several not-for-the-record exhibition games before the actual “regular” season starts. Beginning with the featured Pro Football Hall of Fame game in early August, three weekends of exhibition games are played in the NFL to date. The start of the preseason is intrinsically tied to the last week of training camp.
Exhibition games have been played in professional football since the beginning of the sport. In fact, until league play was formalized in 1920, one could consider virtually all of an independent professional football team’s schedule to be exhibitions (as in test matches). In the early years of the sport, teams often “barnstormed”, and played squads from leagues outside their own, or against local college teams or other amateur groups, charging fans whatever the traffic would bear.
When the NFL was founded in 1920, all games counted in the standings and would be used to determine the league champion. In 1921, this was revised to only count games involving two league members, thus allowing non-league exhibitions, but effectively banning exhibitions between two league teams. This rule had a direct impact on deciding the 1921 championship, in which the losing team insisted that the deciding game only be considered an exhibition.
In 1924, the league again changed the rule to declare any games held in December or later to be exhibitions. By the mid-1930s, teams prepared for a standard 12-game regular season schedule, although even as late as 1939 teams would schedule non-league exhibition games both before and during the season (during bye weeks). The Pittsburgh Steelers (then known as the Pirates) were well known for playing both in the NFL and on a limited schedule in the decades-old Western Pennsylvania circuit in the 1930s.Wikipedia
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